THE number of tourist bed spaces in smaller hotels in Torbay has dropped faster than expected, it has been revealed.
Torbay's tourism bosses have defended restricting the change of use of holiday accommodation in prime areas.
But they believe it should be easier than is proposed in the new local plan to get change of use from tourism accommodation in other areas.
English Riviera Tourism Company chief executive Carolyn Custerson explained that in the council's adopted tourism strategy, the aim was to reduce the number of bed spaces in the four to ten bedroom establishments by at least 3,500.
New research shows this has already happened, though the number of rooms in larger hotels has increased, and the Bay now has 28,000 serviced beds.
Mrs Custerson said: "There has been a dramatic loss in very recent years in B&Bs and small hotels. It appears it is happening quicker than we thought. In the new local plan they proposed resisting further mass release of accommodation.
"The plan proposes to adopt one of the tourism strategy's key recommendations of core tourism development areas replacing the previous principal holiday accommodation areas.
"The proposed core development areas are about the same size as the previous most protected areas where we want to see investment in accommodation, cafes, bars, restaurants to make them thriving, vibrant areas. The new core area would include Brixham which currently isn't protected in the same way.
"We agree we need those core development areas to protect a critical mass of accommodation to support all the attractions and other facilities. If we don't, we will end up like places like Eastbourne which only has 5,500 serviced beds which doesn't now have the bed spaces for large events and conferences."
Mrs Custerson said: "We appreciate a lot of businesses are wanting to sell, but we need to retain the critical mass in these areas.
"We feel we need to hold the line just while we do more work on reviewing the situation.
"Nobody knows what the right figure of bed spaces is, but if we let everybody change use we could end up with attractions closing because there are not enough visitors."
But she said conversion to luxury holiday apartments would be acceptable. "I think mixed use will increasingly be used at such as at Palm Court.
"People have said they want to put up the 'for sale' sign and call it a day but we are trying to turn the tide and increase visitor numbers, not put up the white flag and give in.
"We need to hang on in there and ride it out. Tourism still does provide 21 per cent of employment."
Mrs Custerson added: "Visitor numbers also increased in 2011 for the first time in a while, 2012 had factors such as the weather to contend with. But we feel confident that we have started to turn the corner.
"There are several investments taking place which should come on line by 2015, including the Kingskerswell bypass, Oldway Mansion, Torwood Street, the Pavilion and Palm Court. There are some good things on the horizon and demonstrations of confidence in Torbay."
However, she said the tourism company has voiced concerns about proposals in the new local plan to protect all tourism accommodation outside the core as board members believe it will be become increasingly difficult for operators to be able to invest sufficient funds in the current economic climate to maintain quality.
"That is what the Bridge Group and others are also concerned about," she said. " The board is not totally comfortable with controls on the fringe areas because we think quality standards are still lower than they should be because we still have too many beds in the four to ten bedroom category which means they all have to under-cut one another on price."